Should suppliers be leading sustainability?

Below is a re-post from the Open for Discussion blog hosted by McDonald’s. This example is obviously not from the green industry, but the question and subsequent answer is pertinent to most industries:

We are a supplier to McDonald’s and are proud of that.   We attended the Supplier Sustainability Summit that McDonald’s recently convened.  We share your interest in moving along the sustainability agenda.   I am curious how you see the customer/supplier relationship.   Who should be leading the sustainability agenda?  The consumer?  The customer?  The supplier?   Should we as a supplier lead the way on what we think is best for sustainability?  Or should we listen and respond to what customers like you want and specifically ask for? ” — Dennis H. Treacy, Senior VP, Corporate Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer, Smithfield Foods, Inc.

In my opinion, the more suppliers take the lead, the better. At the end of the day, McDonald’s does not actually produce the products we serve. We have a complex and extended web of suppliers whom we rely upon to help us bring food from the farm to the front counter. So, it’s really our suppliers who have the product development and agricultural expertise. As a result, it is very important for them to play a leading role in identifying opportunities for improvement and ensuring that we continuously progress in the right direction.

Another factor is the reality that solutions to tough agricultural sustainability issues – whether they are environmental, social or animal welfare-related – usually require a systemic approach. Sustainable food issues cannot be effectively addressed unless multiple stakeholders are involved and a broad-based view of the issues is incorporated.

This is not to say that I think McDonald’s should be hands off. We’re in this together as partners in pursuit of progress.  We have a role to play in influencing change for the better, and there are specific initiatives, policies or programs we implement that are unique or tailored to McDonald’s needs, and this will continue.

In the end, it is a blend.  Supplier leadership is expected and needed.   Our proactive leadership and involvement is also important.   A perfect current example is our support of the WWF Global Conference on Sustainable Beef.  Along with McDonald’s, other companies, including our suppliers Cargill and JBS, are involved.  Beef sustainability cannot be tackled by one company alone.  We need a coalition of like-minded organizations that add up to size and scale that can really make a difference.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.